My Neighbour Seki: On Gag Series and Binge-Watching

Let me tell you my story with My Neighbour Seki (Tonari no Seki-kun), and how it killed two days worth of productivity. This will be less of a review and more of a personal tale.

I rarely watch anime shorts, which I consider to be 3-7 minute-long gag series. If a full-length TV episode is a magazine article, then these gag series are like Saturday morning cartoon strips: animated bite-sized comedy. If a full-length TV episode is something you set aside half an hour to watch, an episode of a gag series is something you watch as a break between doing productive work. Personally, if I were to watch a full-length TV episode during breaks, I’d feel too guilty draining 20-30 minutes of my time in one go. But five minutes of a gag series? It’s the perfect length for a break. A mental refresher.

If only reality worked that way.

My Neighbour Seki is simple. It is a tale of a student, Yokoi Rumi, trying not to get distracted by the boy sitting next to her. Have you ever tried to concentrate in lecture, only to be completely absorbed by the colourful fury of Facebook, 9GAG, Imgur, or whatnot on the laptop screen beside you? That is Yokoi’s fate, as Seki sits one desk next to her, always up to some mischief. Throughout the series’ run, Seki constructs an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine out of erasers, plays out a gripping historical drama with chess pieces, and amuses himself in dozens of other ways. And poor Yokoi, despite vowing to pay attention every class, inevitably gets distracted by his antics.

The Elaborate eraser Dominoes/Rube Goldberg Machine
The elaborate Eraser Dominoes/Rube Goldberg Machine

But despite its simple premise, the show is addicting. Seki plays out the desires of all who goof off in class, and it’s fun to think how the education system has failed to effectively cater to his learning style (mark my words: he will be a brilliant engineer one day). But what truly sells this show is Yokoi’s voice actor, Hanazawa Kana. The story is told from Yokoi’s perspective, and she narrates an overwhelming proportion of the lines. When she gets distracted by Seki’s imaginary adventures, she really becomes emotionally invested. And Hanazawa’s virtuosic performance perfectly highlights the gamut of emotional fluctuations that Yokoi goes through every episode. It’s not surprising, then, that I always end up watching multiple episodes at once. In the blink of an eye, 30 minutes of my life are gone.

Yokoi gets emotionally invested
Yokoi gets emotionally invested

Yet, as I binge-watch, I notice something: the jokes get old. It might be because the episodes are formulaic: Yokoi tries not to get distracted, she fails, and ends up narrating an elaborate story based on Seki’s machinations. This becomes painfully apparent when I watch three or four episodes back-to-back. But then again, it’s probably my own fault in the first place, for having no self-control and binge-watching a series best enjoyed in small doses.

So that’s my story with My Neighbour Seki. I’ve noticed a similar pattern with the other anime shorts that I’ve binge-watched. They’re addicting, but they leave an unsatisfying feeling when I watch too many episodes at once (not to mention the work I should’ve been doing instead…).

My Neighbour Seki is available for free legal streaming at Crunchyroll.

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